I was recently asked if any Jean van de Velde images had flashed through my mind on the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach on Sunday. Thankfully they hadn’t, but it’s natural for the brain to conjure up negativity in situations like that. So it’s very important that you just block out all thoughts of what could go wrong and fill the brain with positive information instead – ‘What am I trying to do here? How am I going to do it? What’s my good shot going to look like?’ I had 220 yards to the front edge and it was a shot I’d probably have hit it into a decent position eight times out of 10 if I’d taken it on. But my emphasis was on making five by leaving myself a no-brainer – a shot I didn’t have to think about too much. I didn’t want a tough pitch across a bunker, a long bunker shot or something along those lines. Hence the seemingly defensive play.
Of course it worked out well. I still don’t think it’s sunk in completely, but I guess I’ve settled things down a bit now in my mind and got my head around my achievement. Things have finally quietened down a little, which has made it easier for me to concentrate on playing golf, though that was quite hard in the aftermath. I had a very busy schedule after Pebble and it was always going to be tough to play with all the euphoria. But I definitely wasn’t myself at The Open or the USPGA. I was a little tired mentally and emotionally, and just couldn’t find that ‘dig deep’ attitude. I haven’t had that mental sharpness, that mental toughness to really dig deep from five to 10ft – those putts that make all the difference. I’ve been playing in a bit of a daze. Physically I’ve felt good – I’ve hit the ball well from tee to green. But I haven’t putted that well.
A prime example would be the 71st hole at St Andrews. I hit it front edge, then left my long-range putt about six feet short on the high side. I missed and got one of those slingshot lip-outs, sending it four feet past… then missed the one back too. I finished in an ambulance, which was a disappointing way to end a really good ball-striking round.
So I took a four-week break after Whistling Straits. I feel like I’ve put Pebble in the past now and am ready to move on again with my golf, but there’s no denying my life has changed. The level of recognition has increased considerably in airports, restaurants and so on. There’s been increased media attention and I’m much busier at golf tournaments with requests, photographs, autographs and all sorts. My days of flying nicely under the radar are certainly gone for a while. I’ve enjoyed some real ‘marquee groupings’ too since Pebble – Phil Mickelson and Louis Oosthuizen at Whistling Straits, for example. But you want to play with the best; you want to have the attention on you as it really helps focus your mind on a Thursday and Friday.
As well as the trophy, Pebble brought in a sizable cheque, with which I have allowed myself one or two treats such as a new 2011 Range Rover Sport in the States (Mr Sensible rather than Mr Flash!). And I’m building a new house out there too, a pre-Pebble project that had been hoovering up my cash. So my US Open win has helped towards the mortgage, shall we say.
Another cool thing has been some new road signs in Portrush, flagging it up as the ‘home of US Open Champion golfer, Graeme McDowell’. I think a radio presenter in Northern Ireland started a campaign and the Borough Council bought into the idea. I feel very honoured and nearly embarrassed about it at times. As to whether there’ll be a ‘Graeme McDowell Crescent’ one day too, let’s hope so. But I guess I need to be dead and buried for one of those!
More from G-Mac:
Gallery: Graeme McDowell pictures gallery